7 out of 10

America Discovers The Mysteries Of It's Own Past

"We're all working for the Yankie Dollar", as the old song goes, but have you ever stopped to look carefully at the stuff on the actual green back of the US $1 bill? A mystic eye hanging over an incomplete Egyptian pyramid and signed off with a weird Latin motto bearing an extra letter? As the son of one of those nutters in pinafores, doing his silly handshakes and learning a black book filled with crazy mumbo jumbo, I can confirm that huge portions of the artifacts and documents of the founding fathers of the USA are indeed riddled with the symbols of Free Masonry traditions. Indeed, the only part of "National Treasure" that seems ludicrous is that offical authorities, such as the FBI and Homeland Security would NOT consider the notion of a Free Mason conspiracy at the time of their country's formation to be even possible.

With his family subjected to ridicule and abuse for a couple of centuries, Ben Gates is determined to find the missing treasure of the Knights Templar, a shifty Medieval mafia and forerunner of the modern day Free Masons. After a stab in the back by his financial backer, Ian Howe (Sean Bean) and his cronies, Gates (Nicholas Cage) and his sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), are now on a race against time as he realises that both parties now know that it's hiding place is written in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence. To thwart Howe's plan to steal it and destroy it with chemical tests, he must steal it himself, and sets himself on a long romp through America's most historic sites and artifacts in his quest for the treasure.

In many ways, "National Treasure" is closely similar to Indiana Jones and Lara Croft movies, not least with Jon Voigt reprising an identical role to that he had in "Tomb Raider". Despite this, however, "National Treasure" is easily superior for the simplest of reasons. After seeing Hollywood dispatch it's superstars to the far continents in quests for ancient relics with ludicrous powers, such as the Holy Grail, the Arc of the Covernant and time-warping meteorites, it is truly refreshing seeing a far more feasible plot as the Americans discover mystery in their own country's history.

In a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, well known for his all-heart-pounding action flicks like "Bad Boys 2" and "Gone In 60 Seconds", and one from the Disney stables, it is like seeing Bambi take on the deer hunters with a semi-automatic in its hooves. Likewise, although Cage's void where his personality should be is in stark contrast to the ten-dimensional Harrison Ford of the Indiana Joones series, Cage does turn in a highly passable impersonation of an actor in a part that is well written as quirky to say the least. And once again, Harvey Keitel appears as the hardbitten, philosophical cop, a part he seems now doomed to play for the rest of his natural life.

Sadly, the film is weakened by two main flaws. Firstly, it is almost a Federal Law that "the hero gets the girl" by the end of the last reel and the whole movie is left lumbered with two people, Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) with as much sexual chemistry between them as a couple of paving slabs in a romance that seems to have been strapped onto the film with duct tape. Secondly, no Disney movie could be complete without some of it's legendary insane corner-cutting meaness showing through and this occurs several times with solid stone tomb walls clearly made of polystyrene and a cave of treasures that closely ressembles a bad day at Stittsville flea market.

Despite all of this, the film fascinates and enthralls from the getgo and is one certainly not to be missed... at least the first time around before you know the answers to the riddles Gates, Home, Riley and Dr Chase must solve!

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Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett